Pandit Ji’s tea stall was the first to open in Delhi University and he was greeted by six of us waiting for him impatiently. I think that my five canine companions were brothers and sisters; I do not know their ancestry, but I get a clear idea from the choice of expletives that were used when they had sex in front of his shop. But for such brief encounters, there was a symbiotic relationship between them and the shop. The university with its adjoining forest cover invited joggers, walkers, laughers and feeders every morning. A brisk middle-aged man stopped by as usual to feed the dogs before he went to his laughter club meeting. The dogs loved him. That day, like most days, he was followed by others who would offer more buns, and packets of milk that would be emptied on a cup that Pandit Ji maintained for the dogs. By 5.20 am the dogs would be full beyond belief, but that is when the lazier of the walker-feeders would arrive.
A stern middle-aged man littered with masculine symbols about him including that stern look and a huge curvy moustache arrived at 5.30. He shouted a crisp “Aa”, a short for Aaja (come here), inviting the dogs to his packet of milk. The dogs had retired by now, tired with eating and all the pampering. “Aaja, aaja”, he said in a more mellow tone to elicit some response.
All five of them were stretched on the ground and one of them lifted its head up lazily with the look that said get lost. Sometimes I feel that feeding stray dogs is not just an activity in Delhi; it’s a part of one’s identity. Somewhat shaken by the lack of interest, he walked back to Pandit Ji’s store to get a matri. Still no response. He squatted on the floor next to the bowl of milk and started imploring the dogs to drink it. “Aaja beta, dhood hai, dhoodh” (come my child, it’s milk).
He, like many others, did not realize that he had missed a window of opportunity between 5 and 5.20 am. The only guy who did not suffer this fate of indifference despite coming late was the one who fed a bunch of bananas to the monkeys. The monkeys that were friendly with him would climb on his shoulders or sit on his legs patiently to get the bananas. But the idea of monkeys climbing on them would ward off most people who preferred to feed the pigeons and dogs instead.
A couple lived at Delhi School of Economics or D. School as we fondly call it. It is surprising that they managed to retain the sovereignty of the campus with its not-sure-why-famous canteen. They once littered and the five pups became the most happening thing in the campus that had very little happening apart from classes. I have to admit that the pups were cute, and they got cuter as they got plump with all the feeding they could get. The pups got everything that was served in that canteen including the famous dosa and sambar. Unlike at Pandit Ji, no bowl was maintained at the D.School not infrequently they were fed of the same porcelain cups that were used to serve us. That’s as far as socialism went in our campus lives.
The pups developed their taste and it became a frequent part of campus debates:
“This one does not like Pepsi ya. She only likes Thumbs UP”
“What are you talking about…It’s not a she, it’s a he”!
One day a guy from the Northeast of India was playing with one of the pups and he started carrying it towards the gate. This led to consternation among a group of graduate students who were watching the act. They eat dogs in Manipur, went around the word. Should we stop him asked one, half-heartedly, knowing that it could not be done. They looked crestfallen as the pup disappeared.
I do not know why, but he brought back the pup in two days. It turned out that the man-eat-dog world was not true, but it turned out to be a dog-eat-dog world with the returning pup being rejected by its siblings and even the parents. She was repeatedly attacked and eventually killed by the siblings.
My friend Eric did not believe me at first when I told him that the dogs have a class consciousness. He got a firsthand view when the normally friendly dogs were not friendly as normal with the candy seller. The short-statured candy seller used to claim that he was the class-mate of the tall Amitabh Bachan, one of India’s most famous actors. It was ironic in more ways than one. Ironies help sell candies.
The dogs reserved their aggressive best for the rag-pickers who occasionally crossed the school. It was not unusual for them to look for stones to defend themselves from the aggressive bunch of dogs. One such occasion, the rag picker heard a vociferous cry of Maro math usko or don’t you beat him! The poor guy was now caught between an aggressive dog and an aggressive graduate student bent on protecting the dog. Thankfully for him another group of students lured away the dog with promises of Pepsi, sambar or anything else he was in a mood for.
You cannot ignore dogs in the social life of Delhi University.